Dawn Fraser was arguably the greatest female swimmer the word has ever seen. She was the first woman to swim the 100 metres in less than one minute, a record that held eight years after she retired from the sport. Near the eve of the millennium in 1999, Dawn was awarded the title of World Athlete of the Century by the Australian Sports Hall of Fame. As a young woman she was as famous for her wayward spirit as her sporting ability and it got her into a lot of trouble more times than one.
The new kid on the block
Dawn Fraser was born on the 4th of September, 1937 in Sydney, Australia. In 1952, at the age of 12 Dawn was spotted at a local baths by Harry Gallagher, a Sydney coach. Dawn won national notoriety in 1955 as she broke the current records for all freestyle events up to 880 yards. In 1956 she was ready for the Olympics to be held in Melbourne. There she was shot to international stardom as took Olympic gold, breaking the 100 metre freestyle record set by Willy Den Ouden 20 years previously. An 18 year old Fraser took home three medals from that first Olympic outing, adding silver in the 400 metres freestyle and gold in the 100 metres freestyle relay to her rapidly mounting trophy collection.
Dawn Fraser’s wild side
Dawn continued to dominate the 100 metre freestyle, taking home gold in the 1960 and 1964 Olympics too. However her last Olympic gold taken at the Tokyo Games was won among a series of controversies that saw the Australian Swimming union ban Fraser from the Olympics for 10 years. Trouble began when the young Fraser took it upon herself to march in the opening ceremony against the Union’s wishes. She then angered sponsors Speedo by turning out in an old swimsuit, as she deemed in more comfortable. The final blow came when she was reported to have climbed a flagpole in the Japanese Emperor’s palace to affix an Olympic flag to the top. She denied the last allegation and eventually her ban was dropped after only four years.
Despite the controversy surrounding Dawn Fraser, she was voted Australian of the Year in 1964. Dawn was made an OBE in 1988 and an officer of the Order of Australia in 1999. In her relatively short career Dawn won a total of 8 Olympic medals (5 of them golds), 6 Commonwealth golds and broke 39 records. Finally in 1999 the Olympic Committee named her as the World’s greatest living swimming champion.